Surely one of the hardest commands
for us to
obey is “love your enemy”.
At a time when “Death to all the Jews” has been
Twitter in the UK, the biblical exhortation
to pray for those
who persecute us seems more extreme than ever.
It goes both ways of course.
The idea of forgiving Hamas
(and their enthusiastic supporters)
seems an impossible goal—never mind going the
extra step of loving them.
Similarly, there are believers in Gaza who have lost everything.
GOD’S HEART FOR OUR ENEMIES
"I’m reading Jonah and understanding it on a whole new level”, wrote an Israeli man in a group for Messianic believers on social media. He could empathize with how Jonah might have felt when challenged to go and preach in Nineveh… and felt God’s challenge to him personally as he thought about it. Do we want those terrorists to hear the call to repent? To be given the chance to be included in the family of faith? It’s not just fear but repulsion at that kind of inhumanity, and the struggle to even want such people to repent and find forgiveness. Hamas is much the same as ISIS, as many are now realizing, and Nineveh was operating in the same way back in Jonah’s day. Extreme and excessive cruelty that makes the blood run cold. Zero mercy, even for babies. How do we dare to look at such things… and then connect with God’s heart for the perpetrators? But that’s what Jesus said.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
The bar is so high, it’s utterly unachievable. Perfection?
Only the Spirit of God Himself can make this possible.
Like flying, it’s impossible for us to do… unless we get on an airplane. God’s Spirit living in us opens up whole universes of possibility for us. The impossible task of loving our enemy becomes possible. He is the airplane that makes it possible for us to fly. But each one of us has to be willing to take all our feelings, thoughts, and struggles before God’s throne and allow Him the space to regenerate us.
To change our hearts and fill them with supernatural love.
GOD OF THE IMPOSSIBLE
It can happen in the most extreme of cases. Corrie Ten Boom survived a
Nazi death camp and later encountered one of the guards…
“That’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were! Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent. Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!” And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course–how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze. “You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me. “But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein”–again the hand came out–“will you forgive me?”
And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again been forgiven—and I could not forgive.
My sister, Betsie, had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. Jesus, help me! I prayed silently. I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling. And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, and sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. “I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart.” For a long moment, we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then. But even so, I realized it was not my life.
It was the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the same way, we must love our enemies. It might seem like an impossible task, but we serve the God of the impossible. We can come to God in prayer, and just as he helped Corrie Ten Boom love that guard, he can help us in the most extreme of circumstances. As Corrie Ten Boom said herself,
The wonderful thing about praying is that you leave a world of not being able to do something, and enter God’s realm where everything is possible. He specializes in the impossible. Nothing is too great for His almighty power.
TURN THE OTHER CHEEK?
Jesus also told us to turn the other cheek in that same chapter of Matthew’s gospel. It’s such a powerful way to resist evil, and I know people who have done it with great effect. But is there any merit to the idea that Israel should turn the other cheek to Hamas? Is it a godly way for a nation to respond, refusing to engage, hoping to end the cycle of violence? There’s a British comedy skit in which a police station is run by Christians. A woman runs in, distraught, having had her handbag stolen. “Oh yes, we forgave him and let him go”, the police assure her. It’s comedic because it’s ridiculous. Even the most sincere disciple of Jesus can see the folly in a justice system running by that principle. Turning the other cheek is for interpersonal relationships, not national justice systems, or fighting terrorism on an international scale. Andreas Stutz, one of our professors at ONE FOR ISRAEL’s Bible college, wrote this explanation about how to apply such passages in relation
to Israel’s war with Hamas:
“The state has the responsibility to protect its own citizens and to bring about a deterrence among Israel’s enemies, so they will not attack. Applying New Testament ethics on a political level is a challenge. Let’s take the civil/juristic level. Would you want a judge or a policeman to require a victim of rape to forgive her rapist, so that he will not face judicial consequences? Surely not. They are there to punish criminal behavior. Similarly, as mentioned above, Israel’s army is required to protect its own citizens and to bring about a deterrence among Israel’s enemies. New Testament ethics are meant for Christians when they themselves are being persecuted. However, even a Christian, when seeing grave injustice being done to somebody, may be required to use (even brutal) force to stop it. Still, be assured – Israel did not want this war, and, thus, didn’t initiate it. Please check out how many of Israel’s wars were initiated by Israel. It is not without reason that Israel’s Army is named “Israel Defence Forces”. There is one more thing to consider in this equation. Experience has proven that when Israel chooses not to answer with power, the other side is not emotionally moved by Israel’s goodwill, recognizes it as weakness, and seeks to take advantage of it.”
It is not only permissible but it is the obligation of a nation to protect its citizens, using military action when necessary. Sometimes, as we saw in the fight against Hitler, fighting until the end is absolutely the right and moral thing to do. Holding back from military response in the face of unbridled aggression is how cycles of violence are perpetuated. Violence can be stopped once a victory is complete, but the bloodshed continues endlessly if compromise is imposed, as it just enables the aggressor to continue attacking. An enemy like Hamas (as distinct from the Palestinian people) must be stopped, as ISIS and the Nazis have been. Ordinary people in Gaza are also crying out for the removal of Hamas at this point, after being forcibly used as human shields, their lives treated with utter disregard by their own leaders. Here are the words from someone in Gaza:
“Every Gazan right now dreams that those people will go away. We’re paying the price of Hamas’s idiotic decisions. For how long? if Hamas remains, there might be for example a ceasefire, a truce and in a year or two Hamas would repeat the same scenario.”2
Eliminating Hamas is the right thing to do, not only to protect Israelis from the evil and harm that the terrorists execute with glee given any opportunity, but also for the people of Gaza themselves. So if we won’t turn the other cheek, what does loving those in Gaza look like? Israeli paramedics and volunteers have been working non-stop under the most extreme and harrowing conditions, but did you know that some of the terrorists who have been caught and wounded are now in our hospitals, receiving treatment? Could you imagine that happening to any Israeli soldiers wounded in Gaza? Israel brings many people from Gaza to be treated in Israeli hospitals, including the daughter of one of the leaders of Hamas. Israeli work permits were given to 20,000 Gazans, multiple truckloads of humanitarian aid have been delivered every day, and there have been many projects seeking to build relationships and peace. Unfortunately some of those peace activists have been killed by Hamas. So Israel does extend a hand of friendship to those in Gaza in many ways. But as the IDF have repeatedly said, the people of Gaza are not our enemy. Hamas is. The best way to bless anyone—people in Israel, people in Gaza, even those in Hamas—is with Jesus. We are continuing to share the gospel through the internet and reach all kinds of people in Gaza, and we’re supporting those who have responded to Jesus every day, as much as we can. We also pray for those who persecute us. Whenever you hear Israelis praying about the conflict, you’ll almost always hear them praying for Gaza as well.
ENEMIES WHO LOVE US!
Meanwhile, we are also receiving great love, care and support from helpers in the nations – even from Iran! Iranian football fans in Tehran demanded the removal of Palestinian flags at a match which had been put up by the authorities, and a huge number support Israel in this conflict with Hamas. They understand very well what we are up against here. Many Iranian people stand against their leadership and support the people of Israel. An Iranian friend called recently just to see how we are. He and his friends are bravely speaking up for Israel. He was so encouraging and prayed for us, asking how they could help. Another Muslim background believer from Iran has teamed up with a Messianic Jewish believer (named Avi) here in Israel in the huge effort to help feed all the thousands of displaced people. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been evacuated from their homes close to the northern border and the communities near Gaza, and there are also many elderly citizens whose carers had to leave the country. In a huge operation, these mercy chefs have stepped up to feed Israelis in need, and they are doing it with great love and care.
Similarly, even though people in Egypt are typically not friendly to Israelis, our Agape Radio is accessed first of all by people from the US but the second highest number is from Egypt! There has been a lot of effort among believers to obey the commands of our Messiah, and to link arms between Arabs and Jews, sons of Isaac and sons of Ishmael. Still, fellowship between brothers and sisters in faith is comparatively easy, even if it is between enemy countries. As Jesus said, “if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?” Loving those who want to kill us is something else. Yet we are quite serious is praying for all involved in this horrific war.
JESUS SHOWS US HOW
Many Muslims in Iraq and Syria came to faith while ISIS was on the rampage and the true face of Islam was revealed. We are praying earnestly for everyone in Gaza, both the ordinary citizens who just want to live, and the radicalized militants who are choosing the path of terror. Jesus loves each one. If we want to reflect His heart and walk in His footsteps, so must we. We have all been enemies of God at some point,
and we are only saved by His grace.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.(Romans 5:8-10)
God loved us as His enemies, and gave us His only Son to pay the price for our sin. Jesus didn’t deserve punishment, we did. He took it in our place. This is the extreme and radical love He has poured out on us, even while we were His enemies, and now we need to walk in that love as His children. The fate of those walking in darkness is unimaginable: it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.
We do not want anyone, including Hamas terrorists, to face God without the forgiveness that comes with repentance. We pray that many be brought to their knees and into the family of faith from Gaza, and all the enemy nations surrounding Israel.
Abraham’s tent is open to all his children. The God of Jacob is calling: Come home.